Curve Appeal

Plus-sized bridal boutique caters to brides of all sizes

Back Article Aug 31, 2011 By Christine Calvin

Which, in bridal gown terms, means a size 22 to 26. It’s not a measurement typically found on the rack.

Miculinich’s search took her online and to bridal shows, a trek that left her “completely overwhelmed.” She looked at designs by David Bridal (“like the Wal-Mart for bridal gowns”) and the higher-end Alfred Angelo.

“I had found designers I liked and went to the stores that had them,” she says. “Most of the shops were helpful, but others only had size 10 and 12, which is a street size 8, so you don’t have any idea what it’s actually going to look like on you.”

The challenge isn’t Miculinich’s alone. In a nation where nearly 60 percent of women wear a size 14 or larger, more and more plus-size brides are looking for proper gowns that complement their curves. Yet bridal gown designers aren’t keeping up with the growing demand, preferring instead to continue marketing to and making dresses for their smaller, archetype buyers.

Sandra Gonzalez has seen just about enough of that.

Her chic spin on a traditional bridal boutique, Sparkle, unlocked its doors in Sacramento in early July and will hold its formal opening later this month with a constant rotation of fresh designs for brides sizes 14 to 30.

 “We’re striving to be the leading expert in special-
occasion fashion for sizes 14 and over,” Gonzalez says. “We found it strange that the other boutiques had such a lack of options.”

Miculinich says Sparkle is filling a void.

“Before her, I had gone to four shops, and there was one that had quite a few samples … but then there was another where I could literally try on nothing, Miculinich says.
 
All of [Sparkle’s] sizes were perfect. You could pretty much try everything on, and she had a really good selection. It was nice — and different. A lot of it has to do with the service. You really feel like she wants you to find the best dress.”

The Gonzalez family has been in the formalwear industry for more than 16 years, offering resources for special occasions and hand-made custom gowns out of Gonzalez Bridal Boutique on Lodi’s Central Avenue.

Sandra Gonzalez, an English and enology major out of Sacramento State, was working in the wine industry in San Francisco before returning to Lodi to help her mother, a dress designer, expand the shop.

“We looked at the recession as an opportunity — what goes down must come up,” Gonzalez says. “Commercial real estate was going down; prices were going down. So we were really looking at what our options might be. I thought, ‘what about (Sacramento)?’ But we would need something really unique and something we were known well for.”
 
She identified customer service as her No. 1 selling point, noting the long-term success of her family’s Lodi business, which has grown and thrives on word of mouth alone.

But what about a product niche?

Having heard many stories like Miculinich’s over the years, Gonzalez began scoping the country for high-end, bridal boutiques catering to bigger brides. She found about a dozen stores nationwide operating under such a concept, none of them on the West Coast.
 
And so launched Sparkle bridal couture. There, on Folsom Boulevard near 33rd Street in east Sacramento, plus-size brides can try on dozens of sample off-the-rack gowns or sit with Gonzalez by appointment to discuss a custom design.
 
Prices for gowns in the show room range from $900 to $3,000, while typical costs for couture average $3,000 to $5,000. Gonzalez says the styles she carries all are made with the needs of larger brides in mind, so they not only look stunning, they move and feel just right too.

Across town at Miosa Couture, owner Michael Sommerfield says he understands the needs and frustrations of brides who wear larger sizes, but for him and many other retailers, the cost of gowns prohibits him from stocking more sample sizes. Plus, he says, the demand for plus-size gowns in the Capital Region is much lower than the demand he sees for smaller sizes.

“I wish we could afford to get a sample of every dress in every size and color,” Sommerfield says. “But I pay the same price for the dress as you do — I don’t get a discount.”

Each gown in his shop costs thousands of dollars, “so we try to pick the best average size,” he says. “For us, in a week we might have 10 or 15 percent of clients above a size 12. I get tons of size 10 and 12 brides — I would say 50 percent — and then all the others are almost always 2s and 4s.”

He said he has just one sample size 2 in his store.

Sommerfield says he has ordered more than a dozen fresh sample dresses sizes 16 and up and will showcase them at a spring trunk show, “Gorgeous with Curves.”

Other bridal shops are stepping up their plus-size game, though few stores sell plus-size gowns off the rack and even fewer carry plus-size samples. Along with David’s Bridal, Lane Bryant recently added a wedding dress collection offering sizes up to 32. They can be found at plussizebridal.com. Kleinfeld’s offers full-figured, high-end designer gowns as well.

“I have made some exquisite dresses for some lovely brides,” Sommerfield says. “And they are gorgeous in every size.”

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